Concocting Dissent, Fomenting Despair

At the very onset, before we move even move an inch, here are some current statistics on India for some ready consumption:

  • Real GDP growth – 7.1% (vs. 6.9% year earlier) *link
  •  Inflation – 3.17% in Jan’17 (the lowest ever) *link
  •  Foreign Exchange Reserves – $360 bn (vs. $294 bn in Mar 14) *link
  • Net FDI flows – $46 bn (up by 18%) *link
  • Current account deficit – $22.1 bn (down from -$26.8 bn last year) *link
  • Fiscal deficit (% of GDP) – 3.2% (vs. 3.99% last year) *link
  • Competitive Index – 4.52 points out of 7 (the 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report) *link
  • Per capita income – Rs. 103818 (vs. 94178 last year) *link
  • Financial inclusion – 260 million PMJDY accounts in Dec’16 *link
  • LPG for Poor – 5 lakh new connections given to poor  *link

And to top it all, in November 2016, the Indian government undertook a step that not only surprised its own citizen, but flabbergasted the world. It demonetized the high-currency notes (1000 & 500) that accounted for over 80% of total market cuurency circulation. Everything went into a tizzy, there were serpentine queues, there were issues of liquidity, yet, the government kept working on it, and within a span of 90-days, things were all normal. Not to forget, they were normal and Digital. 

Sone ki chidiya?

In fact, after a flurry of global economist debunking demonetization or predicting doom, things have much changed. There is a growing consensus that if the requisite Manufacturing dissent_shashwatdc_2complementary actions towards digitization are undertaken, demonetization could actually accelerate the shift to a cashless — thereby transparent and yes, less corrupt — society. Recently, the Secretary General of Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurria came all out in support of demonetization. “India has been a star performer in gloomy times. We do not have many cases of 7% growth (GDP). It is a top reformer among all the G-20 countries he stated at an event.

Even on the foreign policy, India seems to be doing fairly well. China’s all caught up in the South China Sea, in North Korea, or back home, to really bother about us. Pakistan, well, it is there and will be. Russia is busy in the US, Europe is stagnating, so is South Asia, and President Trump is doing wonderful things in the US. Our influence and our equity has improved under the current government’s watch.

Now given all these facts and stats, one would naturally assume that Indians would be smug about themselves, happy, proud, ecstatic if not outright boisterous celebrations with Old Monk and Thumbsup.

Right? Right? RIGHT?

Rather strangely, No! Now imagine, if you were a tourist who’s come down to India, and wants to get a feel of things from news channels, print papers and digital medium about the mood of the nation. Well, in case you did, it would depress the daylights out of you. All that is there to read and watch are things about all these poor students that are being viciously attacked, daughters of martyrs are being threatened with rape, celebs that troll, ministers that patronize, I mean, generally, all things would seem so murky, sad and disconcerting. Suddenly, the India that the stats above extol, and the India that is represented is in absolute contrast to each other. So, while we celebrate the multiplicity of god, have we Indians also discovered the multiplicity of truth?

Chimp sniffer

Of all the strange things that monkeys do, there’s this one trait that still takes the cake, sniffing — you know — sniffing their own bottoms. A lot many monkeys (apes, etc) have been observed with such a deplorable trait, putting their finger in the bum and then sniffing at it. Usually it ends in a disaster or disgust, like it did here. But no one has been able to fathom, why they actually do it. I mean, all is good, hunky-dory, and they’d put the finger there, sniff it and suffer.

Now, I believe, there’s this one trait that a few-many humans are inclined with. After all, we aren’t all that genetically different from our butt-sniffing cousins. There’s this chance that a quite a few of those habituated ones are currently residing in India and by sheer serendipity of life, are now at top positions in the media business, fashioning the outlook and the slant of the society with their morbidity. From their perch on the top, these ravens of despondency, relentlessly croak their views spreading all melancholy around.

And if that wasn’t enough, quite a few of these human-chimp sniffers can also be found on the social media sites, writing poignant messages or tweeting scathing masterpieces.

The Right turn

The odd thing is, that this habit did not really exist, say till 3-4 years back. Back then, when we were being rocked by one scam after another, and the PM was singing paeans on coalition-dharma, there wasn’t much negativity so as to speak. Of course, we were terribly corrupt, and woefully inept, but we were a tolerant, brilliant, women-loving, minority-friendly society. So what, if some heinous crimes did take place, but the ethos was rock solid.

Sadly May 2014, changed it.

Post that, every event, every crime, every triviality acquired a much bigger dimension. There was this invisible hand, the fascist, right-wing slant, in every aspect. So, a student commits suicide in Hyderabad, it becomes a Dalit versus the government issue. A bunch of Manufacturing dissent_shashwatdc_10them are sloganeering against the country and are arrested, it becomes a state versus the student issue. And now, there’s this petty fight between two politically-aligned student unions, it too has been turned into a national issue. And to add spice, there’s a beautiful & emotional narrative appended to plot, of a brave daughter of a martyr fighting the powers that be. She has been put on a pedestal, not for any achievement or any striking point-of-view, but because of the ultimate sacrifice made by her father. Questioning her, right now is questioning the very ethos of the army, of martyrdom, of the supreme sacrifice. It’s no more about what Gurmehar says or means, but more of what her lineage or her gender is.

This pedestal has been created by the media that wishes to change the narrative, add multiple hues, turn a regular-joe fight into rampant violence, a tweet by some unknown about rape is converted into ‘threats of rape’. Gurmehar’s case has turned into a national obsession, so much so that there’s little talk in the papers or on the channels about the Malayalam actress, who was abducted and molested inside her car for two hours by a group of men on the night of February 17. The case did not trend on Twitter, and I doubt if many ever posted it on their walls.

And look at the sheer power of the media, a threatening tweet by an individual (the only one that could be found) results in police protection for the DU student.

In fact, such is the deification that anyone not in agreement or having a counter view-point is a troll or a bhakt. Like say, Virendra Sehwag, Randeep Hooda or say a Yogeshwar Dutt are. The certification is endorsed by an elite club of individuals like say the journalists Shekhar Gupta, Barkha Dutt, Sagarika Ghosh, Rana Ayyub, Javed Akhtar and so on.

These much educated and erudite individuals have taken upon themselves to save the honour of a martyr’s daughter. Thankfully, they will not let fascist or totalitarian forces succeed in this country.

What a coincidence

Sadly, this narrative has been oft repeated in the past 2+ years. We had the same frenzy during the Rohit Vemulla time, the Kanhaiya Kumar and now Gurmehar Kaur issue. In fact, the coverage of this stupid news overshadowed the fact that the most populous state of India, Uttar Pradesh is voting in large numbers. After all, shouldn’t the media be talking about the crores of men and women queuing to vote, rather this person’s tweet and that person’s not?

But, there is a strange thing at work now, something serendipitous. By a quirk of fate, every time when the BJP is fairing well, say like it did in Maharashtra elections or Odisha PhotoGrid_1488335809159ones, or its apparent performance in UP, there will be a sudden upsurge of such trivialities. A stray incident somewhere, will throw us completely off the course. There will be an uproar, turmoil and outcry. The contours of discussion would shift to inanities like tolerance, inclusiveness, democracy, patriotism and so on. Passions fuelled, and the demon unleashed. The uproar would reach the parliament, and even the PM would be asked to respond or even apologise. Gurmehar Kaur and the ABVP script is just another chapter in this narrative. Am sure there will be plenty more in the offing.

Utopia is it?

Frankly, it isn’t like all is hunky-dory with India under Modi. There are many things that the current government could do or do much better. But then, we never get to the stage of discussing the mechanics, we are always stuck on the rhetoric. Like, a fair assessment of demonetization cannot start with a falsehood of how people of India have suffered or hated the move and so many have died. The fact that BJP has been sweeping all the elections is a valid proof enough of what they think on the matter. So, should we not focus our attention to the followups of the demonetization exercise? Ask details, pose questions.

Also, some of the biggest and the most pertinent issues of India, never even get discussed in India. Population, environment, education, income inequality, are the kind of issues that should dominate the discourse. The current government must be questioned on its action on these fronts, its plan for the days ahead. The future of this nation will be jeopardised by such issues, not by which party wins an election or not.

Manufacturing dissent_shashwatdc_6Yet, never once are these topics broached by our erudite journalists or the numerous thinkers that abound on the social sphere. They are too busy moping capricious vitriol to spend time constructively. After all, isn’t it very easy to blame and then blame again, rather than suggest or appreciate anything.

A little prayer

So, this is how things do stand at the moment. We exist in a duality, an India that seems to be doing fabulously well (relatively speaking), and an India that is caught in the quagmire of gloom. Every time you pick the paper, or catch the news, you will almost feel sorry about yourself.

(Well, there’s a little trick to undo that effect, just watch CNN, and you will suddenly feel lucky that you aren’t an American)

So, here’s my little earnest request to all my friends and fellow Indians:

Dear Butt-Sniffers, this country isn’t a sad place, simply because where you put your hand last. You might terribly enjoy the sport, but do spare us the tripe. Do find something meaningful to keep yourself busy, rather getting worked up on inanities. And in case, the truth befuddles you, disturb your bearings, just go to YouTube and type in Rahul Gandhi. You are bound to feel much better and relaxed, knowing that this youth icon is not our PM. India is not bad, and neither are Indians, no matter what their political affiliations are. Live and let live!

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